Isiah Is Back—Loudly
Piston players and coaches believe Isiah Thomas's recent verbal explosions have been designed to fire up Detroit for the postseason. They say that although Thomas is not 100%, his right wrist has healed to the point where he is not hurting the team by playing. Perhaps they are correct.
Perhaps not. After a 94-90 home loss to the lowly Cavaliers on April 10, Thomas criticized both his teammates and coaches by saying that "nobody gives a —— around here anymore and that includes the coaches. We've become comfortable with losing." A few days earlier, Thomas had referred to some of his teammates as "stowaways," meaning that they were just along for the ride and were not producing.
As for his injury, Thomas has played reasonably well in the six games since his return following a 10-week layoff. He averaged 16.7 points and 9.8 assists in those games, including an impressive 26-point, 16-assist performance in a 95-91 victory over the Bulls at The Palace of Auburn Hills last Friday.
However, at least twice he has just waved at hard passes thrown to him by teammates, letting them go out-of-bounds. On April 9, Thomas charged up to teammate John Salley and said in no uncertain terms not to throw him such a pass again. No one has ever questioned Thomas's toughness, so the only logical assumption is that he is really hurting. Thomas won't elaborate about the injury, maintaining that his wrist is "O.K."
The Pistons are in a tough situation. They would have preferred that Thomas had sat out longer to rehabilitate his surgically repaired wrist. Yet he needs to play to regain his conditioning, and the Pistons need to play with him to regain their timing on offense.
The Class of '86
The fifth anniversary of the most star-crossed draft class in league history is approaching. "Seems like we were decimated by all kinds of situations," says Cavalier center Brad Daugherty, the first pick in '86. "Doesn't seem to make much sense."
No, it doesn't. The tone was set when forward Len Bias died of cocaine intoxication less than 48 hours after the Celtics had made him the No. 2 selection. Frontcourtman Chris Washburn, whom the Warriors drafted with the third pick, played only 72 NBA games in two seasons before he, too, was brought down by drugs. Washburn attempted a comeback this season with the Tulsa Fast Breakers of the CBA, but last month the team put him on the suspended reserve list to work on his basketball skills. No one is sure if he will ever play again, and most NBA teams have lost interest in him.
The sixth pick in '86, center William Bedford of Detroit, is a two-time offender under the NBA's drug policy and is tested periodically for drugs by the Pistons. Bedford has been an inconsistent reserve, and he's unpopular with his teammates. Maverick forward Roy Tarpley, chosen after Bedford, is a certified NBA talent but has had repeated bouts with both drugs and alcohol. The latest incident occurred three weeks ago when he was arrested on DWI charges, prompting the Mavs to suspend him indefinitely without pay. (Tarpley denies he was intoxicated.) He has not played since suffering a knee injury in the fifth game of this season.
Three of the biggest names of that draft, forward Brad Sellers (the ninth pick), guard Dwayne (Pearl) Washington (13th) and forward Walter Berry (14th), had neither the talent nor the work ethic to become NBA stars, though stardom was predicted in some quarters for all of them. Sellers had four marginally productive NBA seasons with Chicago, Seattle and Minnesota before departing to play in Greece. Washington is an average performer for the CBA San Jose Jammers and was hampered most of this season by an ankle injury. Berry is a big scorer in Spain, but he shouldn't hold his breath for another chance at the NBA.
The "situations," as Daugherty puts it, go on. The Clippers' Ron Harper (the eighth pick) and the 76ers' Johnny Dawkins (No. 10) have both suffered serious knee injuries, though Harper has evidently made it back and Dawkins is diligently going through rehab. John Williams, the 12th selection, has had an impact mainly with his much-publicized battle of the bulge. His weight skyrocketed to about 300 pounds over the summer, and he has played in only 30 games for the Bullets.
When all is said and done, only a handful of '86 first-rounders have enjoyed productive NBA careers: Daugherty, the Pacers' Chuck Person (the No. 4 pick), the Knicks' Kenny Walker (No. 5), Salley (No. 11), the Rockets' Buck Johnson (No. 20) and the Magic's Scott Skiles (No. 22), who was originally chosen by the Bucks. Oddly, that year's second-round haul proved to be almost as rich as the first: Mark Price (the 25th pick), Dennis Rodman (No. 27), Larry Krystowiak (No. 28), Johnny Newman (No. 29), Nate McMillan (No. 30), Kevin Duckworth (No. 33), Otis Smith (No. 41), and Jeff Hornacek (No. 46) have all been, to one degree or another, steady NBA players.
The Class of '91
This year's draft, meanwhile, is not exactly setting pulses racing. "After the first 15 picks," says Boston assistant Jon Jennings, "it's a real crapshoot."
Take Rich King, a 7'2" center from Nebraska who, according to some scouts, moved into the lottery with his unspectacular but solid play at the Orlando All-Star Classic last week. That King is being compared with Chicago's sub center, Will Perdue, the 11th pick in 1988, speaks volumes about the level of talent in this year's draft. A week earlier, the MVP at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament was John Turner, a 6'8" center from Phillips University, an NAIA school in Enid, Okla. Two years ago, Turner left Georgetown after he was seen with a longtime friend who was later convicted of drug dealing in Washington. Turner may not even be drafted.
Among the most interesting players at Orlando was 5'10" Mike Iuzzolino of St. Francis (Pa.), who has come out of nowhere to join better-known point guards Chris Corchiani of North Carolina State and John Crotty of Virginia as possible early or midsecond-round picks.
The players of most interest to scouts didn't go to either Orlando or Portsmouth. They include Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, George Ackles and Greg Anthony of UNLV; Luc Longley of the University of New Mexico; Mark Macon of Temple; Rick Fox of North Carolina; Doug Smith of Missouri; Steve Smith of Michigan State; and Dikembe Mutombo of Georgetown.
"The last image we have of Mark Macon is from an excellent NCAA tournament," said one scout. "Why should he risk showing up and damaging that image?" Conversely, players who are on the lottery bubble, like Anthony and Fox, might have been able to make a strong statement because NBA scouts sometimes overvalue these postseason events. Last year, for example, Ohio University jump shooter Dave Jamerson was considered a second-round choice at best. However, he played well at Portsmouth and Orlando, and Miami drafted him with the 15th pick and then traded him to Houston for the draft rights to Alec Kessler. Judging from his erratic rookie season, Jamerson shouldn't have been drafted nearly that high.
Delray Brooks, a former player at Indiana University and Providence, and Eric Newsome, formerly of Miami of Ohio, were passing a summer afternoon last July, grumbling about life in the World Basketball League in general and life on the Erie Wave in particular. While lounging in their motel room in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, awaiting that night's game against the Storm, Brooks suddenly jumped to his feet and said, "Why don't we get our own team to run?" And Newsome said, "Why not?"
Why not indeed? Some seven months later, Brooks and Newsome were introduced in Boca Raton, Fla., as the co-founders and vice-presidents of the Florida Jades, one of three expansion teams to join the WBL for the 1991 season, which begins on May 3. Brooks is vice-president of basketball operations, and New-some holds the title of vice-president of business affairs.
They landed in Boca Raton largely because Newsome's father, Emanuel, is vice-president of student affairs at Florida Atlantic University in Boca. Newsome called on his father's contacts, as well as a few of his own, to spread the word that he and Brooks were looking for a team to run. The day after a story ran in the local newspaper, they got a call from Gary Rice, president and owner of Knight Distributing, a fragrance company. Knight is based near Atlanta, but Rice lives in Boca. After a few rounds of meetings, Rice decided he would be willing to put up the $200,000 for a new franchise—40% of the $500,000 cost; the WBL owns 60% of every franchise. The nickname, Jades, comes from one of Rice's products, Jade East, a men's cologne. "Delray and I would have considered buying a team, but what we really wanted was an owner to come in," said Newsome. "It worked out great."
Of course, now the hard part begins. "We don't expect to become experts on running a team overnight," said Brooks. "But being players ourselves, I think we have an understanding of what makes a successful franchise. The players are the cornerstone. You can't cater to them, but you have to have an understanding of their problems. That's what was lacking in some of our other experiences in the league."
Will the two execs be pressed into playing during the season? "We're not planning on it," said Brooks, "but both of us have a uniform put away just in case."
Here are this voter's picks for the NBA's conventional awards:
Most Valuable Player—Michael Jordan, Bulls. No other choice makes sense.
All-League Team—Charles Barkley, 76ers, Karl Malone, Jazz, forwards; David Robinson, Spurs, center; Jordan and Magic Johnson, Lakers, guards.
Coach of the Year—Don Chaney, Rockets.
Rookie of the Year—Derrick Coleman, Nets. Nice try, Lionel Simmons, but you are doomed by your .422 shooting percentage with the Kings.
Most Improved Player—Kenny Smith, Rockets. Skiles, the Celtics' Kevin Gamble and the Bullets' Harvey Grant were all strong candidates.
Sixth Man Award—(Tie) Detlef Schrempf, Pacers, and Dan Majerle, Suns. Schrempf has had a better season, but Majerle is a truer sixth man; Schrempf ranks second on his team in minutes played.
Defensive Player of the Year—Robinson. The shot-blocking Spur received stiff competition from two manic man-to-man defenders: Alvin Robertson of the Bucks and Dennis Rodman of the Pistons.
Now for some unconventional categories:
Best Letter to the Editor—The one written to The St. Paul Pioneer Press by a fan complaining that Timberwolves coach Bill Musselman stations his center too far from the basket. The epistler? Ralph Breuer, father of Minnesota center Randy Breuer.
Coaches Most Likely to Get the Ax at Season's End—1) Musselman; 2) Ron Rothstein, Heat; 3) John MacLeod, Knicks.
Coaches Most Likely to Walk Into the Sunset—1) Dick Motta, Kings; 2) Bill Fitch, Nets. At their respective ages of 59 and 56, and with more than 3,300 NBA games between them, does either really need the aggravation of life in the lower depths?
Worst Prediction—This prognosticator picked Milwaukee to finish out of the playoffs and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. At week's end, the Bucks were a half game behind Detroit for third in the East.
The Reggie Roby Award—To Person, who in a fit of pique during a game at Chicago Stadium on March 23 drop-kicked a basketball into the stands. He was fined $2,500.
Defensive Play of the Year—Bucks coach Del Harris taking a charge on Nugget guard Michael Adams during a Jan. 29 game in Milwaukee. Harris had argued a call moments earlier and stayed on the court as Adams led a fast break down the sideline.
Injury of the Year—Nintendonitis. Simmons missed two games because of wrist strain brought on by playing video games.
Worst Case of Mistaken Identity—By a lady at the Salt Lake City Airport who thought Malone was a skycap. He carried her bags to the car and declined a tip before he told her who he was.
The Hold-On-There-a-Minute Quote of the Year—From Skiles, who said of teammate Dennis Scott, "Other than Rick Mount, he's probably the greatest longdistance shooter I've seen." At week's end Scott, a rookie, was shooting .423 and trailed 11 players in three-point shooting percentage.
Best Screen—Jordan, a prisoner of his fame, is lending his name to a Chicago restaurant that will have a private room for his dining and business meetings. The room will have windows, so that Jordan can be seen but not touched. "The people can still have a great time, but there won't be any mob scenes," Jordan says. That's the theory, anyway.
The Hold-On-There-a-Minute Quote of the Year, Runner-up—From Sonics center Benoit Benjamin, who, after apologizing for flashing an obscene gesture to a Clipper crowd last week, said, "I regret that I did it in front of kids. Kids are our future, and they look up to guys like me." At least part of that is true. Kids are our future.
The 12th Man Award—To Utah backup center Walter Palmer, who through Sunday's games had played only 76 minutes the entire season, even though he had not been on the injury list. Just ahead of Palmer, who's a rookie, was Detroit veteran swingman Scott Hastings, who had worked up just 88 minutes worth of sweat. Said Palmer, a Dartmouth grad, "This is still a great job to have coming out of college. I'd recommend it to anyone."
NATHANIEL BUTLER/NBA PHOTOS
Thomas's ailing wrist hasn't stopped him from giving his Piston mates the back of his hand.
Tarpley (42) wasn't the only Class of '86 member to go astray.
Smith (30) is deserving of the most-improved accolades.